Ice in a Cocktail: Sphere, Chunk or Cube? | Giovanni Ceccarelli

Ice in drinks: sphere, chunk or cubes?

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The shape and size of ice (i.e. its surface), used in a drink, have a different affect on the cooling rate and, as a result, on the dilution. I’ll explain why in this article.

This article forms part of the ice in drinks theme. Prior to reading, I suggest you read my first article ‘How much ice in drinks?‘ and then the ‘Ice in drinks: time, temperature and dilution’.

In the first article I explained why the ice cools and what, in my opinion, is the right amount of ice to use in drinks. In the second article I explained how dilution, time and drink’s final temperature are related.

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I also demonstrated that a lot of ice cools faster than a small amount of ice so, in the same amount of time, more ice dilutes more than a small amount of it. 

The fact that a lot of ice dilutes and cools faster is neither good nor bad, it’s simply what happens, and you need to be aware of it.

In this article I will analyze how the shape of ice affects both temperature and dilution: using a chunk, a sphere or cubes leads to different results.

Before starting it’s worth remembering that there is no cooling effect without dilution. This means that the ice has a cooling effect simply because it melts. Beware! It’s not the melting water that has a cooling effect, rather it’s the melting process, that is, the transition of ice from the solid to liquid state.

The ice has a cooling effect because in order to melt it needs to absorb energy, that is, heat from what surrounds it, in our case the drink.

If, however, we use ice taken from the freezer, a part of the drink’s cooling effect would take place without dilution, because ice taken from the freezer at a temperature of (-19°C) up to 0°C, absorbs heat only to increase its temperature and not for melting purposes. Nevertheless, this part of the heat is much lower than the amount needed to dissolve itself (I wrote about this in the article ‘How much ice in drinks?


Thanks to GHIACCInO from Fano, manufacturer and certified retailer of ice.

This is the experiment I carried out: I took a chunk of ice that weighed 105 grams, with a 132cm2 surface, a sphere of ice that weighed 105 grams with a 113cm2 surface and some ice cubes that weighed 105 grams with a 251,6 cm2 surface. As you can see the weight of the ice in all three examples was identical: what changes is the surface. The temperature of the three samples was identical with the aim of relating shape (therefore surface), drink temperature and dilution, while neglecting ice mass and ice temperature.

I placed the ice in 3 identical glasses, with the same amount of liquid (127.8 grams) at a starting temperature of 18°C. I left the liquid immersed for 120 seconds (2 minutes). I then filtered and measured the dilution (by weight) and the final temperature of the drink.


Liquid and ice chunk.

Now let’s analyze the results obtained.

The ice cubes, that weighed 105 grams with a 251,6 cm2 surface, after 2 minutes, generated a dilution equal to 19,2 grams of water and brought the drink’s final temperature down to 5.5°C.

The chunk of ice, that weighed 105 grams with a 132cm2 surface, after 2 minutes, generated a dilution equal to 14,2 grams of water and brought the drink’s final temperature down to 7,9°C.

The sphere of ice, that weighed 105 grams with a 113 cm2 surface, after 2 minutes, generated a dilution equal to 12 grams of water and brought the drink’s final temperature down to 9°C.

The results I obtained are in line with what I was expecting: a greater contact surface between ice and liquid causes a greater dilution.

The reason for this is identical to what I explained in the article ‘Ice drinks: time and dilution’: the larger the contact surface, the greater and faster is the heat absorption by the ice. This leads to, over the same length of time, a greater cooling effect, and therefore greater dilution.


After 2 minutes I filtered and weighed the liquid. (Cubes)

Let’s now try to understand, in everyday work, what this implies.

If you prepare a Negroni, for example, with a chunk or a sphere, you will need to stir longer. This is because, as you’ve seen, a chunk and a sphere have an ice-liquid contact surface smaller than many cubes and, as a result, to reach the proper dilution and temperature you will need more time.
A few months ago, in a well-known bar in Italy, I was served a Negroni prepared directly in the glass with a chunk of ice: the drink was warm and not diluted enough. I had to wait a few minutes before it was perfect.

Personally, I think spheres or chunks are useful not for stirring directly in the glass or in the mixing glass, rather they are great when used in the serving glass after shaking or stirring with normal ice cubes.

Let’s try to understand the reasoning behind my point of view.

You’ll achieve the dilution and temperature you want much more quickly with a lot of ice cubes. However, the temperature reached will not be the lowest obtainable because otherwise, the drink would be too diluted. As a result, once the desired dilution is reached, the drink may be cooled and diluted more by stretching the shake, the stir or by pouring the drink on new ice.

I call the cooling effect and dilution I get by pouring the drink over new ice secondary cooling and secondary dilution.

The chunk or sphere are very useful in limiting the secondary dilution.

If you pour the drink on a chunk or sphere of ice, the secondary cooling effect, as a result of this type of ice, will be slower than pouring it on ice cubes and, consequently, dilution will be slower.

If however, you pour it on new ice cubes, the secondary cooling effect will be faster and as a result you’ll obtain a greater secondary dilution. The reason for this is due to what we said before: many ice cubes, with equal mass, have a greater contact surface than a sphere.

By this I don’t mean to say that you need to have spheres or chunks of ice at the bar. A great job has always been done even using normal ice cubes. With sphere or chunk ice you can better control the secondary dilution and secondary cooling that takes place after shaking or stirring a drink and then pouring on the new ice.

Now that you know what happens and why, you can evaluate what the best solution might be depending on the type of bar and the context in which one works.

Happy mixing!
Giovanni

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